‘Golda’ star Helen Mirren says ex-PM would be ‘horrified’ by Israeli politics today

At Berlin film festival for biopic’s premiere, British actress says government’s efforts to upend Israel’s judicial system mark ‘the rise of dictatorship’

British actress Helen Mirren arrives on the red carpet ahead of the premiere of the film 'Golda,' at the Berlin International Film Festival, February 20, 2023 in Berlin. (John MacDougall/AFP)
British actress Helen Mirren arrives on the red carpet ahead of the premiere of the film 'Golda,' at the Berlin International Film Festival, February 20, 2023 in Berlin. (John MacDougall/AFP)

BERLIN (AFP) — British actor Helen Mirren said Tuesday she thought former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, whom she portrays in a new film, would be “utterly horrified” by the country’s current political state.

Speaking to AFP at the Berlin film festival, the Oscar winner said that Meir had stood for the “idealism” of Israeli’s founders, while a controversial judicial reform put forward by the current government marked “the rise of dictatorship.”

“I think it would be a complete reversal and denial of her values and her understandings of the world that she wanted to create,” Mirren said of the proposed reform.

“I think she would have been utterly horrified. It’s the rise of dictatorship and dictatorship was what has always been the enemy of people all over the world and she would recognize it as that.”

The reform is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, an alliance with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties which took office in late December.

It would boost the power of politicians over the court system, with Netanyahu saying it is the way to restore the balance between the branches of government.

A poster comparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar is seen during a protest against the government’s judicial overhaul legislation, in Jerusalem on February 20, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP)

The Knesset took a step toward approving the measure earlier Tuesday despite weeks of mass protests against legislation critics see as a threat to democracy.

‘Young and raw’

The choice of Mirren, who is not Jewish, to play Israeli’s only female prime minister, drew criticism when it was announced.

But she and “Golda” director Guy Nattiv, an Academy Award-winning Israeli filmmaker, insisted Mirren’s long relationship with the country lent authenticity to her portrayal.

Mirren said that in the 1960s she had hitchhiked around Israel “in my youth, when you could still do that… seeing the country young and raw.”

“I had a Jewish boyfriend and he really wanted to go to Israel and I was certainly up for it,” the 77-year-old said.

“We organized to go and stay and work on a kibbutz. And it was quite soon after the (1967) Six Day War, actually, so the repercussions were still really being felt in Israel.”

Israeli director Guy Nattiv and English actor Helen Mirren (R) attend a photocall for the film “Golda,” at the Berlin International Film Festival, February 20, 2023 in Berlin. (Ronny Hartmann/AFP)

She said the kibbutz faced shelling and that she deeply admired the “idealism” of its residents under fire, calling her time there “an extraordinary experience.”

“That was very much Golda’s world,” Mirren said.

“She was at her happiest on the kibbutz actually… their idealism, their dream of the perfect world, and I did experience that which was great.”

‘Israel’s Vietnam’

Nattiv, 49, said he wanted to portray Meir, a disputed figure in Israel, as a politician of integrity belonging to the same class of leaders as Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Menachem Begin.

“They didn’t drink champagne — they were really humble leaders that we miss today,” he told AFP.

“They didn’t build themselves palaces,” Mirren added.

Nattiv said he and his family had joined recent demonstrations against the judicial reform.

“It’s terrible. I think it’s on the verge of losing democracy and I think if Golda was alive seeing that, she would want to go back to her grave,” he said.

“She was just very honest. And she also took responsibility for everything, and she totally believed in the judicial system. So it’s totally (the) opposite of what we see today and it’s dreadful for me.”

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in HBO’s ‘Golda.’ (Jasper Wolf)

“Golda” shows Meir during the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which Egyptian and Syrian troops attacked on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Nattiv called the conflict “Israel’s Vietnam.”

The film portrays Meir as a flawed but principled wartime leader, ready to show steely resolve toward the enemy but deeply concerned about families bearing the brunt of heavy battlefield losses.

Early reviews were largely positive, with London’s Daily Telegraph saying Mirren “impresses as a leader under unimaginable pressure.”

However the Guardian dismissed the picture as “lifeless.”

“Mirren, normally such a sparkling performer, is lumbered with a grey wig, false nose and jowls” in a “bafflingly dull” war movie.

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